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Wisconsin Child Advocate Calls Solitary Confinement Counterproductive

Wisconsin is one of the few states that allow children to be kept in solitary confinement for long stretches of time. (3dmentat/iStockPhoto.com)
Wisconsin is one of the few states that allow children to be kept in solitary confinement for long stretches of time. (3dmentat/iStockPhoto.com)
February 1, 2017

MADISON, Wis. – Wisconsin is one of few states that still allows children in state juvenile-corrections facilities to be put into solitary confinement, and a federal lawsuit challenges that practice as cruel and unusual punishment. A similar suit brought in Illinois a few years ago resulted in massive changes to that state's juvenile-justice system.

Jeff Spitzer-Resnick, a youth advocate and civil rights attorney who owns System Change Consulting, says putting kids in solitary makes a bad situation worse.

"Since most of the children who are incarcerated at Lincoln Hills or Copper Lake have already been traumatized in their life, solitary confinement is even more likely to exacerbate their trauma," he explained.

The suit was brought by current and former inmates at the Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake facility and by the ACLU. The solitary confinement cells at those facilities are tiny, with one small window that offers only a view of the cell across the hallway.

The suit says in some cases, the youthful prisoners have been forced to spend weeks in isolation, and the state's current policy allows confinement in isolation for 60 days. Spitzer-Resnick says the whole concept is counterproductive.

"To essentially torture them with solitary confinement and further traumatize them heightens the risk that these children will commit another crime, thereby victimizing someone else, and maybe more than one person," he said.

The Wisconsin Department of Corrections is refusing to comment on the suit. Spitzer-Resnick says the goal of the Corrections Department should be to rehabilitate, not incarcerate, juvenile offenders.

"These are juvenile facilities," he continued. "These children will be released into society. None of them will be there for the rest of their lives. And so, we as a society have to ask ourselves a question of what we want these children to be like when they are released."

Tim Morrissey, Public News Service - WI